Short Story: Dragon Drops

The bookshop was really just one of these hole-in-the-wall places, a door between two bright, shiny businesses.  The window was stacked with books, hiding everything inside. There was a posterboard that read “All Trade Paperbacks, $1” in front of the four towers of crappy paperback books – mostly romance novels from the scrawling letters – which balanced in the window.

The woman who entered this day was not tall, not beautiful, and not dressed up. Wearing jeans and a shirt that read “Talk N Er Dy to me” with the periodic symbols for Nitrogen, Erbium, and Dysprosium for the Nerdy spelling. It was a little loose and around her waist was tied the arms of a hoodie.

Behind the counter the proprietor raised his head without opening his eyes.  His sharp teeth gleamed as he said, “I think you might be lost ma’am.”

“I hope not,” she replied, turning in a slow circle to take in the shelves of precariously stacked shelved.

“Where are you trying to go?”

“Anywhere,” she replied, putting her fingers on the spine of a book with almost reverence.

The shop owner narrowed his eyes and took a long, deep breath.  The pages of the book beneath him stirred in the wind of that air and settled again.  He looked down and tapped on the page with a soft grunt of surprise.

“Very well ma’am.  It seems you aren’t as lost as I thought.  Are you sure?”

She didn’t reply, she had lifted a book from the shelf and was reading the first page.  The shopkeeper sighed and shook his head a little.  He tapped a bell on the counter and bowed his head against his chest again.

From the back room of the shop a door opened.  Noise made the customer raise her head and she set the book back on the shelf, sidling towards the open doorway.  As she stepped through, there was a jingle of laughter around her and three small baubles dropped into her hand.

Should you ever wish to return, just eat one of these drops,” a voice said.  “Just know, the same door is never available twice.”

She smiled a little and pocketed the baubles and fingered the five dragon drops.

Short Story: Wind chimes

Staring out the window was hardly the most productive use of time, but it’s all Cordy wanted to do today.  It was just cloudy enough to be gloomy, with a pallor that it might rain any moment.  It was just cold enough to make a t-shirt too light and a sweater too heavy.  In all, it was the worst sort of day in her opinion.

On the other hand, it was exactly the kind of weather which was most useful to her particular brand of magic.  In those moments before the rain broke, the equilibrium of the world hung in balance and if she could time everything right, Cordy could change the world.

Most witches had to use potions or long complicated spells.  Cordy had spent years struggling with why sometimes her spells were powerful and sometimes they didn’t work at all.  It had been something of an accident when she figured out she was linked to the weather.

She had been sitting in her living room with a scrying bowl, trying to seek her next car.  It wasn’t as simple as going to the local dealership; a witch needed a car that wouldn’t dull her magical senses and wouldn’t fight her every time she did something a little funny to the universe.  There was a running joke that cars were harder to find than cats among witches.

Cordy had just entered her trance when thunder boomed.  It rattled the windows on her apartment and made the wind chimes she’d hung on the porch screech in a jangle of metal.  But the power which flower through her was intense; and she instantly saw her car.  It wasn’t anything special, just a blue Toyota; but it would be the car that wouldn’t get upset about magic and wouldn’t crap out on her.

It took some experiments to figure out that it was change that empowered Cordy; weather or construction had both proven useful. Recent road work near her house had been like there was a river of power flowing past her daily.  She’d never heard of a witch empowered by change.  Just think what she could do during times of civil unrest? Civil war would give her the kind of power people only attributed to Rasputin or Charlegmagne or Ceaser.

 


I know this isn’t a story with a plot; but it’s been rattling in my mind that IF there were urban witches, why aren’t they powerful? Why aren’t they turning people into frogs and whatnot?  Well, what if they used their power wrong.  So this isn’t as much a “short story” as a bit of exploration in a character/idea/magic concept.   It’s also a “I swore I’d get something blogged this week” post….

 

Writing: Mary Sue

I stood up in the crowd of people. They noticed me.

I pushed back against the bully to protect someone. I won.

I feel no pain. No fear. My rage is always completely justified. My love is always true and pure.

I can wield any weapon I desire.

I can drive any vehicle.

All the skills are mine.

Does any writer NOT struggle against the Mary Sue/ Gary Stu conundrum? I think I would like to gather the Mary Sue/Gary Stu stories of famous authors and put them into a book. How many choose Star Wars? Star Trek? Harry Potter? Firefly? Would there be cross-overs?

I mean, how cool would it be to see JK Rowling write her fanfic in Discworld or to see Neil Gaiman put his Gary Stu into the Wheel of Time or Middle Earth?  Just to see what some of the “big” authors would choose and where they would go… much less how they would portray their Mary/Gary choice.

Maybe I’ll pick a month in 2016 and do that… once a week I’ll write a fan-fiction short story.  Maybe start some”Fanfic Fridays”

Some ideas I think might be entertaining:

  • An American-version Hogwarts (tho I might end up exploring a different way magic could go/might have gone in the US… because we’re special snowflakes ya know…);
  • So I played in a Star Wars RPG (we were soooo broken) and I might have to do a story of my favorite character from that game (I had 3 characters over the ~10 years of campaign);
  • “Waking up” in an urban fantasy environment.  whether it will be American God’s world, White Wolf, or Dresden Files… not a question I can answer right now;
  • Ubiquitous need for a Pern fanfic though I’ll have to decide what my place in that world is (and I’ll probably screw something up ’cause I’ve only read like a dozen of the books… not 100%)
  • Another cyborg in the world of Lunar Chronicles (if you haven’t read – go get Cinder and start reading.

Any suggestions? Requests? Ideas?

Short Story: Walking Alive

I stumbled into the house, my wrist throbbing. I went to the bathroom first. I know it’s useless, but 28 years of cleaning cuts aren’t broken in a day. An hour? Anyway, I clean out the wound and wrap some gauze around my wrist. I weave my way past the boxes of dry goods I’ve collected. Damn and I just found that pallet of fruit loops too. My favorite. It took me a whole day to get that pallet back here.

I go into the living room and pull out paper and pens. I want to leave some notes for people. I don’t know if mom will get this letter, it’s been years since I saw her, but I have to hope. Hope is all that kept me going this long.

I finish the letter to my parents and write some letters to some of my new friends. I want to let them know how sorry I am. I failed and I always hated failure. I didn’t handle it will at any time in my life, this is an even bigger failure. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I finish my letters and go back to the bathroom, wrap another round of gauze around my wrist.

I stand there, staring at the gauze and put it on the counter, my decision made. I can’t change my future, but I can help out whoever finds me. In one of the half-buried closets I pull out a pair of high heels that literally make the wearer balance on their toes. I set these by the door and go into my bedroom. I put on my armpit holster and put my favorite pair of guns into the holsters. I’ve never worn 2 guns on this thing before and take several minutes to resettle them. I load up spare weapons clips and slide them into my pockets.

Underneath the bed I have three machetes. Two of them have these awesome case things, one I slide over my head so it fits against my spine. The other I strap around my waist and clip the bit over my knee. I look at the third one, but for the life of me – oh wow that’s a bad pun – can’t think…

I stuff my jacket pockets, one of those military style coats with eighty pockets, with match boxes, my favorite travel food kit, and my paperback copy of The Life of Pi, one of my favorite books now. I make sure the book is on the inside pocket hopefully a safe place. The last thing I put on is an old lanyard with my house key on it.

I go to the kitchen and from under the kitchen sink I pull out some duct tape.  I tear off three long strips about a foot long each. I then carefully wrap the four fingers of my left hand.  I look at the high heels and sigh. Damn, I need to go ahead and put them on. It’s awkward to put the heels on and I wobble horribly as I stagger into the kitchen. I tape my right hand’s four fingers.

My stomach growls so loud and insistently I see red for a moment. I groan with the hunger. I grab one of the pieces of tape and wrap my left hand’s thumb against the rest. I have to use my teeth to get the right-hand thumb and I lick my lips as I look at my own flesh being hidden beneath the grey grunge tape.

I use my hands like the levers of a forklift to pick up the last piece of tape. I totter as I try to keep my balance and awkwardly, I put the tape over my mouth.  I tap it into place and half-stagger, half-drag myself between the boxes to the front door. I can barely open it and stumble outside. Underneath the balcony I hear my siblings asking me if I’m hungry. And I am. I am so hungry…maybe I should go eat Mr. …. so hungry….

Short Story: Squirrels in the Attic

The family had three cats and a dog.  Two of the cats were hunters and came from the same litter – Taffy and Cinnamon. There was a long debate about which cat to put into the attic the first time the family heard squirrels.  Taffy was far and away the superior hunter.  He brought in everything from snakes to bats.  Alive. Apparently bringing them home and letting the humans play with them was the most affectionate thing he could think.  No matter how many times he got yelled at. No matter how often he was reminded “you bring it inside, you lose it!”

Cinnamon might or might not be an amazing hunter; she was smart enough not to be seen bringing in her prizes. The only time anyone knew she had been hunting was when remains were discovered.  Her favorite spot to take these “toys” was the bathtub in the hall.  Somehow she learned that if you put a mouse in the bathtub – you can play with it all night.  Brilliant and scary in a super-villain sort of way.  So great hunter who catch anything, or the smart one?

It finally got decided to put Cinnamon up there first, see what happened.  The entrance to the attic was an access hole in the parents’ closet.  Space was cleared, a ladder brought in, and Cinnamon picked up.  Being smart, she knew something was going on, and looked at the humans with great suspicion.  Then set out exploring the dark of the attic.

Imagine what it was like, the pink paper-covered insulation, the wooden beams of the ceiling crisscrossing. Cinnamon’s green eyes expand their pupils until she can see in the dark.  She moves on the beams to avoid the crinkle of the paper, her claws retracted completely so only the pads touch the smooth two-by-four.  She slinks along the beam, smelling and seeing the traces of the squirrels which are invisible to the human eye.  A cross-beam away, there is a flicker of movement and she turns, muscles tense as the squirrel darts off along a parallel beam, along the outer edge of the roof where the beams are close and tight.

Cinnamon darts across the beam, leaps to the next one – and the squirrel is out the hole underneath the eaves and scolding her from the safety of the sun-drenched roof.  Cinnamon back-tracks the squirrel’s path to find where it had been sitting when she began her hunt.  She memorizes the scent of the prey and prowls through the attic, searching for any sign of another squirrel.  Eventually, she returns to the hatch to go back down to the brightly lit world of food and water.

The family put Cinnamon back into the attic sporadically for the next several weeks.  Then came the day when the squirrel didn’t just run out.

There was no foreshadowing that today would be different. The parents heard the squirrels above their bedroom, found Cinnamon, and put her up through the hole.  They had found the hole where the squirrels came in and out, but without making sure the squirrels were outside – they didn’t dare patch it. The only thing worse than living squirrel in the attic would be starving or rotting squirrel in the attic.

Cinnamon made her way along the beams and then found them. The family. The squirrels had been carefully building up their little nest and had their little ones now among the pink insulation, twigs, and leaves the squirrels had brought in. The parents, with little ones too small to make it outside yet, didn’t run for the hole.  They stayed to fight.

The sound of the fight came through the hole in the attic. The outcome was pretty assured. One strong hunter-cat would win. In the closet below her brother, Taffy, was tortured. He could hear it all. Why should she get all the fun? Taffy is the one who could catch a bat and bring it home uninjured for the humans to play with. Snakes… lizards… a baby possum once… He paced at the base of the closet, staring up at the darkness.

If you were there, you would understand that prayer does work.  At least for a poor cat who is hearing his sister get to do what he loves above all else. Whatever cat god lives in the universe heard his plea.  As the sounds above continued there was a grey puff falling from above, one of the young squirrels fleeing death had not known what the word “hole” would mean.  The little puff landed on the floor practically between Taffy’s paws.

Taffy hardly hesitated, snatched up this morsel and took off. He knew the rules of the humans. Bring the toy inside, you lose it. He couldn’t make it to the cat-door fast enough. The rest of his days, Taffy spent waiting for the god-of-the-hole-in-the-closet to hear his prayers again. When he was a fourteen year old cat, beginning to waste away from illness, the humans picked him up from the floor of the closet on his last day.

Short Story: Christmas Zombies

Somehow the zombies are worse around the holidays. I can’t explain why. I mean, I live in Atlanta, which is known for our bad zombies.  When I go to other parts of the country for trips and they talk on the radio about their zombies, I look around and just have to laugh.  What they consider a horde we call a good day here in Atlanta!

I creep around 285, growling at the shamblers who are in my way. I really wish these zombies would just get out of my way so I can get home. Tonight we’re having the relatives over – not my relatives… well I guess I married into it so I can’t complain too much.  But I will complain to myself here and now.  In my car, I will rant and rave.

There are two types of zombies that are especially obnoxious – the shambers. Those slow-moving-always-in-the-way zombies that are EVERYWHERE.  They don’t seem to go anywhere and they just get in the way.  Singly they are easy enough to get around, but they love to herd up and make everything just STOP. All you can do is scream and wail and try to weave through them. Sometimes easier said than done.

Then there are the blockers. I swear these zombies do it on purpose. They see you coming and just – Pop! – suddenly in front of your car and seem to read your mind. When you try to go to the right – they go to the right. You go to the left – they go to the left.  Not as slow as a shambler, they wear away at your patience.

My patience is nearly done today.  The shamblers really come out during the holidays. I know, I said it before. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face.  Today was full of shamblers and this one terrible blocker. I just could not get around this zombie!  As I pull into my neighborhood I heave a sigh of relief.  Almost home.

I pull into the driveway to see the shambler I nearly went full-on-road-rage on –  in my driveway.  That blue hatchback with a bumperstick that says “My child is a super star at Forest Academy”… there’s a zombie in my family.

Short Story: Brain Port Plug Data recovery #1785

The radio ping tells me Moria is on the way. I slowly peel myself out of the chair to stand. As the last of the mesh releases me, I double-check the auto-pilot one more time. The captain felt pretty confident this lane should be safe, but I still feel the whole deal was pretty shady. It’s not like bugs tend to trade. What in the milky way could we be delivering to bugs? Supposedly those crates are full of food stuffs and art.  Like bugs want art.

I am about to leave the cockpit when I see a blue tinted with purple flash on the display. I throw myself back into my pilot’s chair, link my arm port back to the control rig and begin talking, “Class 3 shield coming up at sixteen point three reser from five o’clock. Will be alongside in three minutes and twenty seconds.”

Moria bounds into the room, her long limbs swinging and her long ears still loose around her head, flapping like wet blankets against her head. She hopped into the co-pilot seat, “Captain, we have an unregistered, unresponsive Nalitpol cruiser. Visual on your gear now. Looks like they might have a jammer on top. We may already be too late to send out a distress signal.”

“Looks like just a four man scuttle crew,” Captain Adra’s voice said.

I roll my eyes, “Oh great.  Death instead of robbery.”

“You know Captain Adra will buy them off.”

“Not with bug boxes on board,” I reply, “and we’re crossing Del’ala space, they won’t exactly jump to our rescue either.”

Moira doesn’t reply to my pessimism.  It doesn’t make me feel any better to be right.  I push the ship to try to get a little more speed without burning out. Our maximum speed is less than ten reser.  My only hope in speed is that we might catch up to other traffic. One ship might be easy pickings for pirates, but two or three can hold a rotating shield until one of the Del’ala patrols passes by.  It is slim but it is the best we can hope for.

The little cruiser pulls up against the shield near our starboard hatch.  There is a glaring red warning as their shield began calibrating to ours. I swear.

Moira says, “We have approximately forty-five seconds before they match our shield and enter our field.  Attemping a discharge.”

She sends a discharge of energy down the shield generator.  Sometimes this can overload the conflicting field. Sometimes it causes our shield to auto-recalibrate by a digit or two, buying us seconds.  Nothing is showing on the forward scanners. I attempt a final manuever to break them off our shields. They have speed and manueverability we can never hope to acheive in our freighter.

Captain Adra’s voice across the speakers, “Everyone prepare for boarding.  They should only have four on that cruiser, let’s assume they have six.”

The panel in front of me flicks from red to blue and I say, “They are inside our field.  They’ve docked to the starboard aft hatch.”

“I’ll get down there,” I cringe to myself to hear Thela speak. She would. “They must know that’s where we’ll have the worst cover.”

“Assume they know our ship as well as we do,” Captain Adra said.  “Keep on co-”

The radio system blinks as jammed on the panel in front of me. I can’t even tell Thela how I much I love her. One set of Moira’s upper ears perk up telling me the hatch has been hacked. In some ways, I am grateful for the comparatively narrow depth of sound I hear. Moira will hear every pained or dying scream. I can watch Moira though and read what must be happening. A death, but ours or theirs?

“There!” Moira said, “Two vessels in front of us!  We can get help!”

I throw the ship into overdrive, it might burn out the engine, but with help we would have a chance to repair rather than… well die. I have heard horror tales of pirates who didn’t just throw you out the airlock hatch but left you equiped with your shield and then left you to watch the ship drive off. All you can do is watch and wait for your shield to fail.

I nearly throw the ship in reverse when I get the visual of the ships in front of us.  The visual of a single military Ammaccare carrier is enough to make any ship pause. The sight of two sharing a field… I hear the first scream which means the pirates are getting closer to the cockpit. The double-lock should take them a few seconds to hack, it might buy us enough time to get to the Ammaccre. At this point, I might even appreciate their ruthless attitude.

Moira hisses softly. Some days you regret having a translator.  She mutters darkly about jammers and then says, “At least one of them is Ukimi.  They might not take kindly to a jammer in their territory.”

“We aren’t in Ukimi lanes though,” I remind her, “we are in Del’ala territory.”

“Why are Ukimi and Swepol meeting in Del’ala territory? Seems to me the fuzzies aren’t going to appreciate the competition.”

I don’t have time to answer before another field appears on the computer, massive.  Another ammaccare.  It swoops down over us and a voice crackles on the computer, “Synchronize your field to ours…” a number scrolls across the board.  I can hear Moira typing, “or prepare to be boarded by force.”

Moira swears again and said, “They hit the engine room and they’re hacking our codes!  The del’ala are going to have to crack us like a uugi nut!”

The gears on my arms shudder as the engine suddenly shuts off.  I gasp in pain at the feedback loop and disengage from the controls.  I look at Moira.  She is already prepping her shield to flick on when the door opens.  I do the same and also snap an extra battery pack to my blade.

There is a shudder throughout the ship. I glance at a panel to see the upper cargo hatch warning light blink.  I feel my pulse racing. I move next to the door.  The hilt of my blade is slick with sweat from my hands.  My arm port stings.  Moira and I wait in silence. I don’t want to look at her because I know she can hear what’s happening throughout the ship.

“Open the cockpit door,” the voice over the radio says.  I now glance at Moira, her ears are all lifted like a set of frills around her head as she tries to filter the sounds and identify if it is pirate on the other side of the door.  I see the panic in her face. Pirates or privates? Flicking on my field I open the door.

Three del’ala soldiers storm in, knocking me back with their shields. I immediately drop my shield and hold up both hands in surrender. The big fuzzy creatures move efficiently to make sure no one else is hiding. Moira is cowering in her seat, one points and she moves quickly to join me. I have no idea if she ever turned her shield on or not. They hustle us out of the cockpit. I involuntarily gasp when a black-garbed Swepol pilot with the octagonal patch on his chest passes us to the cockpit.  Moira and I enter the hold to see several yssaiki bugs flying the boxes of cargo up into the hold of the other ship.  What are bugs doing on a del’ala ship?

I race to Thela, she is alive! She is staring at the mixture of giant furry del’alan soliders, black-garbed humans, and bug drones. I’ve never heard of three of the five factions working together on anything. Oh and the Ukimi ship outside… I wrap my arms around Thela when a black-garbed human walks up. He flicks his shield on and shoves me, Thela and Moira out the hatch the pirates hacked.  Moira’s screech is cut off by the sudden vaccuum.  Thela’s shield flickers on for a moment and fails.

I hold her as our momentum carries us away from the ship.  Thela doesn’t speak, but sobs softly.  We pass out of the ship’s field, watching as the ammaccare slowly detatches. We watch as they join the other two in the far distance.

“A secret meeting… of all five factions…”

My shield crackles with battery strain and there is a warning beep from the gear on my wrist. I link the last spare battery in. It just delays the vaccuum… I look at Thela. Her lips are turning blue. I cover them with my own. I try to pull her closer. It’s like moving through mud.

The shield flickers once. Beep. I feel my lungs burning. Twice. Beep. I wish I had Moira’s ears now. I can at least hear Thela’s heart beat. Beep. Beep. Beep.